On the surface, the news at the tail-end of Midwest Distributors Association’s annual meeting and dinner in late October at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch & Chicago Sports Museum would seem to be negative in nature.

But it ended up being far from that. While MwDA membership voted for the voluntary dissolution of organization, the region will continue to operate with a full slate of officers and events under the auspices of the American Supply Association. MwDA has represented Region 2 of ASA since 2001.

The new setup is similar to how the recently revived South West Central Distributors (SWCD) region is run with ASA providing comprehensive back-office support. “We don’t really view it as a dissolution,” outgoing MwDA President Dave Poteete (M. Cooper Winsupply) told the audience in Chicago. “100% of our dues will go to supporting ASA programs now. We plan to continue all our local events, especially our annual dinner. What we really are doing is evolving and taking the next step toward greatness.”

Outgoing ASA President Rick Fantham (Hajoca Corp.) followed Poteete with these words, “MwDA’s vision makes their association viable and sustainable going forward.”

After a networking session and dinner, MwDA members and invited guests heard from keynote speaker Edward Gordon, an author and the founder and president of Imperial Consulting Corp. Gordon talked about workplace planning solutions related to creating and filling jobs. “It’s 2020, and where are the workers you need?” Gordon asked the audience.

In his research, Gordon notes 40% of companies today have job vacancies and 55% have difficulty filing skilled job positions. He also stressed during his presentation that the upcoming onslaught of retirements, plus the large amount of individuals not currently employed (he pegs that number at 94 million, which includes retirees, unemployed workers looking for a job and people who have given up looking for work or are looking only periodically) only will further complicate the country’s shortage in finding sufficient amounts of skilled laborers.

One of Gordon’s solutions in bolstering the labor force with trained and skilled workers involves taking a grassroots approach through the development of RETAINs (regional talent innovation networks) that rebuild the pipeline that connects people to the job market. More than 1,000 of these cross-sector employer-community intermediary nonprofit agencies already exist across the United States, he pointed out. Gordon said RETAINs help reinvent a modern-day education-to-employment-talent-creation system that can support a tech-driven, knowledge-based economy.

He added training and education initiatives at the company level are critical in modern times. Gordon cited one particular set of data that shows in 1995 35% of employers provided training and education. That number, according to the data Gordon referenced, has dipped to 20% today.

“We are not finding qualified workers right now,” he said. “Much of what you see in the news about the current labor force is an illusion. Wages are going up because companies, particularly smaller companies, are having to pay competitive wages to skilled workers in order to survive. This is a cultural reality. We need a better-educated workforce. A better-trained workforce means more profitable production.”

First Supply’s Todd Restel was installed as chairman of ASA’s newly formed Region 2 Advisory Council, replacing the outgoing Poteete. In addition to Poteete and Restel, the final roster of MwDA officers and directors included Ryan Curry (Connor Co.), Greg Servais (Dakota Supply Group), Bill Zielinski (Chicago Tube & Iron), John Bennerotte (Bennerotte Marketing Agency), Michael Dore (R.C. Sales & Service), Randy Grebel (Bemis) and Monica Moore (InSinkErator).